Editorial Columns

Kurt Angle Retrospective – Gold Medal to Signing with WWE

We begin a three-part career retrospective of WWE Hall of Famer and Olympic Gold Medaliist, Kurt Angle ahead of his farewell match at WrestleMania.

Any fan can tell you that pro wrestlers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. 

Some are former professional or collegiate football players that sustained a career ending injury and opted to pursue wrestling instead, others are the children or grandchildren of wrestling legends, and there are even some that were fans who just couldn’t resist the urge to become involved in the business. With all that in mind, what would you consider the origin formula needed to develop the perfect professional wrestler?

How about starting with early exposure to wrestling at an amateur level? Let’s say around age seven. From there we’ll fast forward to the high school years; here our prospective epitome of a pro wrestler will go undefeated in amateur wrestling their sophomore year, qualifying for the state’s championships. Junior year they’ll place third in their state’s wrestling championships, going on to finally claim the championship their senior year. Moving on to college, let’s have our subject capture two Division 1 NCAA wrestling championships, achieve the title of NCAA All-American three times, and top it all off with numerous USA Junior and Senior Freestyle Wrestling championships.

With college in our rearview, the next logical place for our candidate to continue their wrestling career has to be the Olympics, but I personally think this is all going a little too perfectly. Ironic, I know. How about our wrestler qualifies for the Olympics, but sustains a major injury in the process? Let’s say, a broken neck. Five months of rest and rehab later, our wrestler is fit enough to compete in the Olympic games. So, why don’t we put a nice little bow on top of our blueprint with the perfect wrestler winning the gold medal in amateur wrestling with a broken freaking neck. At this point, I’m positive you have an idea of which pro wrestler I’m referring to.

Kurt Angle is undeniably one of the most prolific technical wrestlers to ever walk the face of the Earth. Even before his extremely decorated tenure in the WWE, Angle could easily be considered the perfect wrestler. That being said, where does pro wrestling perfection go after capturing Olympic gold against all odds? Well, Extreme Championship Wrestling, of course!

In October of 1996, Kurt would be invited to ECW’s “High Incident” event by fellow Pittsburgh native Shane Douglas. During the show, Angle gave an in-ring interview and also joined the commentary team during a match involving Taz. All signs seemed to point towards Kurt signing with ECW, until a spot later in the show where Raven “crucified” Sandman to a cross with barbed wire. The violent spectacle would prove too unsavoury for the Olympic hero, causing him to threaten legal action against ECW owner Paul Heyman before promptly exiting the building. The World Wrestling Federation would also express a high level of interest in Kurt Angle in 1996, but early talks between Kurt and the company would break down after Kurt stated his unwillingness to lose matches. This sentiment was most likely a result of Angle’s low opinion of professional wrestling brought on by his decorated amateur and collegiate career.

Two years later, Angle’s opinion of professional wrestling would greatly change after his decision to become a frequent viewer of Monday Night Raw. Kurt described the Raw experience as “World class athletes doing very athletic things.” going on to later say that his original negative opinion of pro wrestling was misguided and stupid. August of 1998 would see Kurt sign a five year deal with the WWE three days removed from his initial tryout with the company.

Angle immediately began training with legend Dory Funk Jr, going on to compete in front of a live audience within a week’s time for then WWE developmental promotion World Wrestling Alliance. Kurt continued touring WWE’s developmental territories throughout 1998, eventually making his first televised appearance for the company in a promo on the March 7th 1999 edition of Sunday Night Heat. The gold medalist’s first official match for the WWE would be a winning effort in a dark match against the late Brian Christopher on April 11th.

For the moment, that’s where our story will be paused. Kurt Angle has claimed Olympic gold despite having possibly the most difficult of odds against him, and now he has started down a road that will eventually lead to his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. But, there’s still a lot to cover before we get to that. So, keep your eyes glued to this site for the continuation of this retrospective. 

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